Neesham fireworks build on Guptill’s ton in New Zealand’s 371 for 7

Martin Guptill smote a 14th career ton in his first ODI since March, Kane Williamson cruised to 76 off 74, Ross Taylor struck 54 off 37 balls, and James Neesham clubbed 47 not out off 13 – hitting five sixes in an over – to launch New Zealand to a monstrous 371 for 7 in Mount Maunganui.

Leading his second ODI, Lasith Malinga could not find sufficient wicket-takers in his attack – a common plight for Sri Lanka captains in the past two years. Though he himself had provided the wicket of Colin Munro in the fifth over, no further breakthroughs were made for more than 26 overs, and Guptill and Williamson helped themselves to the 163-run second-wicket partnership that formed the spine of New Zealand’s innings.

Then later, when the hosts went into the last 12 overs at 221 for 2, Taylor provided the muscle in the first half of the death overs before passing the baton to Neesham, who annihilated the bowling of Thisara Perera in the penultimate over.

The first ball, slightly over-pitched, was walloped over cow corner, before the next ball, of similar length, was clubbed over the same boundary. Clearly rattled now, Thisara again missed his length to be hoisted into the sightscreen, before over-correcting next ball, and sending down a knee-high full toss that was gazoinked over midwicket again.

With four sixes now having been hit off his first four deliveries, Thisara proceeded to wilt further, firing in a waist-high beamer that was called no-ball, but that Neesham, mercifully, could not slam beyond the infield, taking two runs. When he struck the next one over midwicket it seemed likely that Thisara was about to concede the most expensive over in ODI history – 33 having come from it with one ball left – but only a single was taken off the final ball, a low full toss. Neesham wasn’t quite done with the six-hitting, however. He slapped Nuwan Pradeep over cover for six to end the innings.

Earlier, both Guptill and Williamson’s innings had been smooth from the outset. Guptill waited until the fourth over to hit his first four, lashing Pradeep through cover, but the boundaries came rapidly after that – the batsman particularly severe when the Sri Lanka’s bowlers pitched wide, which they did too often. One Pradeep over fetched him three fours inside the Powerplay, and by the time the fielding restrictions had ended, Guptill had well and truly played himself in, with a run-a-ball 29 to his name.

He practically skated through the middle overs, happily working Sri Lanka’s spinners into the outfield on a surface that was offering little turn. Whenever they offered him the chance to free his arms, he did so gleefully. There was an especially memorable six over extra cover off the legspin of Seekkuge Prasanna to bring up his fifty, then a swept six off Lakshan Sandakan a few overs later. As Guptill and Williamson’s scores swelled, the Sri Lanka spinners appeared more and more toothless. Neither created any clear-cut wicket chances.

Williamson played another one of his effortless innings, scoring heavily behind square on the offside to begin with, before runs began to come for him right around the ground. He used his feet to the spinners, and had even less trouble turning the strike over than his partner. Two inside-out lofted drives off part-timer Danushka Gunathilaka in the 29th over were particularly memorable. He had looked good for a century until Pradeep bowled an off-cutter that Williamson was slightly late on – the ball bouncing back on to the stumps. He made 76 off 74 balls.

With the team outstandingly well placed heading into the final 15 overs, Taylor ventured big blows – mainly behind square – to get the run-rate heading up towards seven. By dismissing Guptill, Taylor, debutant Tim Seifert and Henry Nicholls in relatively quick succession, Sri Lanka thought they had pulled the game back slightly. Then came Neesham and that 34-run over.

This is an excellent pitch, and a small ground, but a target of 372 is monumental nevertheless.

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